Sunday, December 03, 2006

With Cream and Sugar


I love coffee, always have. My parents were not big coffee drinkers in my childhood. That is not to say that they didn't like it, but just that coffee was not a part of their daily morning ritual. I would say that they were more tea drinkers, although they very much appreciated the occasional coffee brew. Whenever we did have coffee in the house, I LOVED the smell. The aroma alone would make me crave a taste. My Mother or Father would pour me a small cup, heavily diluted with milk and sugar, and I'd feel special and included in big people things. Of course, for those old enough to remember, coffee pretty much sucked in the 70's, and only started to become a more 'gourmet' brew in the second part of the 80's. Before then, I think coffee was largely associated with diners like Big Bob's, Denny's, and IHOP. American coffee was hot, weak, roasted (burned!) bean water. Forget about cappuccinos, lattes, and espresso drips. Any European, specifically Italian or French person, who chose to drink our watered down version of coffee would undoubtedly complain about the quality. Who could blame then? I don't know exactly when a strong coffee culture of lounges and experienced baristas began to have prominence in the U.S., but I do remember my own introduction to these types of cafes started when I was 15, back in 1988.
I was bused to Hollywood High School, where I attended a magnet school for the performing Arts. Every morning I found myself on a yellow school bus before 7AM, leaving Tujunga, a small L.A. county that I associated with rednecks, Hell's Angels, speed dens, and River's Edge type characters (yes, that is exactly where the Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper movie was filmed!). I was headed for further craziness at Hollywood High, situated on Highland Avenue, smack dab between Hollywood Blvd and Sunset. This was a strange place to go to school, with a bunch of random kids, dreaming of fame, and craving attention and adoration on the stage. My afterschool (and sometimes during!) forays down the neighboring boulevards, involved running into junkies and prostitutes (My english classes windows actually faced a motel, where we would watch the hookers enter and exit with their various johns), playing hide and seek in the Roosevelt Hotel, sneaking into matinee movies at the Mann's Chinese Theatre, visiting the Max Factor museum, eating beef and cheddar sandwiches at Arby's, checking out the sidewalk stars on Sunset, and hanging out at Highland Grounds.

This is where the coffee part of the story returns. My friends and I were growing up fast, feeling our independence at being so far from home, and wanting to be as individual and unique as our imagination and insecurities permitted. We weren't a part of the nighttime bar scene (and that's another tale), so coffee houses were the only place we could go and socialize, spending our handful of dollars, and hoping to be chatted up by cute boys. Where else could you meet recovering alcoholics, wannabe screenwriters, and folksy guitarists hoping for critical exposure?

When I finally was on my own, a student a UCLA, coffeehouses took on a new purpose. They were the place to go for midterm cramming and paper writing. We were pumped up on caffeine, thinking that a cafe full of people would provide less distraction then our roommates at home. Now I recognize that we were all just so young and curious, wanting to see and be seen, and that any place where we could rub shoulders with potentially interesting strangers would draw a crowd. The coffee was irrelevant.

Once I was truly an 'adult' and holding down a 9-6 job (does 9-5 really exist?), coffee had new meaning. As part of 'water cooler' socializing, grabbing a cup of joe was an excuse to take a break with fellow employees. In addition, the energizing effects of caffeine now had true purpose, and stopped me from showing up at work glassy-eyed, and unfocused, from a late-night out. In SF, I'd grab a cup early in the morning, trying not to spill a drop on the lurching Muni ride downtown, and chug my way to a brighter face. Coffee saved my ass. However, even then, I did not NEED a cup of coffee EVERY morning. It really depended on how difficult it had been to drag myself out of bed, and probably also on how much I drank the night before. Flash forward to the present, and I am absolutely addicted. I simply do NOT feel right without my home-brewed Ethiopian or Breakfast blend. Parenthood has turned me into a cripple in the morning. I can't function without a caffeine injection, and one cup is now not enough. I've increased to two cups a day, and generally don't shower or get out of my pajamas until I've had a double mug full. When I was pregnant, it actually wasn't hard to give it up. I suffered from so much nausea during my first trimester, that the smell was actually unbearable. After those initial three months, my olfactory sense returned to normal, and my ultimate pregnancy craving was coffee flavored icecream. Today, my obsession has peaked (I certainly hope). Coffee is more than just a pleasurable beverage, it is a buoy in a stormy ocean. I think I would begin to panic if it were taken away, like a drug user with an actual physical addiction. How would I stay awake enough to watch a baby, after my bleak 7 hours of continually interrupted sleep? How would I answer the phone at work, in any other speed but slow and indecipherable? How, oh how, would I make it through a long day that requires quick reflexes and mental capability? Quite simply, I wouldn't. Coffee, you are my saviour. With gratitude, this is my ode to you.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I was not craving coffee, I am now. That grown-up feeling drinking coffee bombarded with milk and sugar under mom's and dad's supervision brings me back to a good place, too. This is a memory we share as siblings even if you were the first to try it years before I did.

Love you,
Paloma

10:54 AM  

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